Minneapolis should “pull out” of the County’s plans for Minnehaha

Seattle: the real most progressive city in America

Just like with contraception, the pull-out method doesn’t work for transit. When a bus is required to exit a through lane to make a stop, then to reenter the through lane, there is inherent delay in the additional movement required. Then more delay when the bus has to yield to vehicles in the through lane since most motorists are constantly ignoring traffic laws, including the one requiring them to yield to transit vehicles. So pull-outs make transit slower, and slow transit is only a goal for Reason foundation shills and streetcar advocates, not the City and the County (nor the region).

Even worse, pull-outs are extremely dangerous. Typically, that’s because they encourage motorists (most of whom, as we’ve already discussed, are scoff-laws) to turn right around buses that are stopped for boarding or disembarking passengers. The latter group oftentimes will intend to cross the nearest street, the one that the motorist is currently turning onto without any visual notion of the conditions thereupon (unless this particular motorist has the ability to see through buses). Unsurprisingly, conflict and sometimes injury or loss of life results. This routine death trap since is found all over the Twin Cities, including on brand new streets like Nicollet Ave and Chicago Ave.

Infographic

Infographic

So when I saw that Hennepin County’s design for Minnehaha Ave is lousy with pull-outs I was both surprised and annoyed, then after a moment, surprised again. The design actually mitigates the above-mentioned safety problem in two ways: first, with bump-outs, which put a bit more distance between the bus and the crosswalk it is potentially obscuring, and second, more effectively, with far-side bus stops (at the request of Metro Transit, according to County Engineer Nick Petersen’s statement at the TPW meeting) . If there is not a place to turn right around a bus into, motorists are less likely to turn right around a bus. But the pull-outs here have another dangerous feature: they require buses to cross a bike lane twice with every stop they make.

This situation is likely somewhat familiar to cyclists and bus drivers in the Twin Cities; indeed, Plymouth Ave, which is served by the same bus route that runs on Minnehaha, requires buses to stop in the bike lane itself, which is less convenient for cyclists, though maybe a bit less dangerous. The local list of streets that build in conflict between transit vehicles and dedicated bike facilities just goes on and on: Lowry Ave N, Emerson Ave N, Fremont Ave N, 2nd and 7th Sts N, 11th and 12th Sts and 4th and 5th Aves downtown,  Portland Ave, Chicago Ave, the existing Minnehaha, East Franklin, University Ave SE, 4th St SE, Como Ave SE… I’m sure I’m missing a few.

The Future, courtesy Bicycle Dutch

It doesn’t have to be this way. In the future (AKA Holland) this problem has already been considered, and a solution arrived at. Rather than have transit vehicles weave to the right of bikes every 500-1000′, then back to the left again, they have the bikes move the right of boarding and disembarking transit passengers. This moves the conflict to the nonmotorized modes, which has considerably less deadly consequences. The transit riders then can do their transit business on a segment of concrete separated from the roadway by a curb, so the bikes can either be placed behind them on a little side canal of the roadway, or else be raised up to the sidewalk level and brought back down at the intersection (or across the intersection if it’s at a sidestreet and a raised crossing is used anyway). Hennepin County engineers shouldn’t be unaware of this approach, as it runs rampant in Montreal, and if they studied cycle tracks as they claim and they didn’t study Montreal, well then they didn’t study cycle tracks.

Riding the bumpout in Montreal

Riding the bumpout in Montreal

The cool thing about bus stop bypasses, or forward boarding areas, or bus stop islands, or whatever you want to jargon it, is that it really is optimized for parking-separated lanes. In other words, it has a ton of synergy with the goal of separating the lanes on Minnehaha for a more universally-appealing ride. This is because it’s way easier, rather than to make the bike lanes taper right to travel behind the transit boarding areas then taper back left again, to just keep the bike lanes to the right of the parking lane the whole time. That way the bikes continue straight ahead with a comfortable buffer from cars, and actually parking spaces are maximized because there’s no need to eliminate them to incorporate a taper.

Whether or not a protected bike lane is added, though, the design needs changing to at least incorporate elements that remove the conflict between bikes and buses inherent in bus pull-outs. Since its birth in Holland six decades ago, a design that positions bike lanes behind the bus stop has slowly crept around the world and has finally made it even to Winnipeg. If all of our local agencies don’t start embracing state of the art roadway design, we won’t just run the risk of losing our spot as a cycling center of the USA, we’ll run the risk of being known as a Warm Winnipeg.

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18 Responses to Minneapolis should “pull out” of the County’s plans for Minnehaha

  1. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary November 26, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    It is worth noting that at the vast majority of bus stops in Copenhagen (certainly one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world), cyclists do have to stop for passengers boarding and disembarking from the bus. The bus does not stop on the cycletrack, but they may as well, since transit users have to be all over it to get on and off the bus. At a handful of busy locations, they’ve done a setup more like what you suggest. And I agree, that’s a “best practice”, but probably not necessary for relatively low-volume, infrequent service, like Minnehaha’s. A cycletrack winding behind the bus stop would be more appropriate on Lake St, Nicollet, or Chicago — if we were ever to get cycletracks there.

    Incidentally, in Richfield, the (more-frequent) buses stop in lane on Nicollet and Portland. Granted, these are four-lane sections, so the option does theoretically exist to pass the bus. But I find that many, if not most, motorists just wait behind for 10 seconds for the bus to keep moving. If that works on 15-minute service on those streets, I should think Minnehaha Ave drivers could handle it for 30-minute service.

    • Alex Bauman
      Alex Bauman November 26, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

      I should have mentioned in the post that Minnehaha is designated as an arterial transit route on the Met Council’s 2030 Transportation Policy Plan. I believe it’s also on the City’s 2030 Primary Transit Network. Of course it’s not certain, but that means that frequency will likely increase over the lifespan of the street (as it should if we want to maximize our LRT investment).

  2. Matt Steele November 26, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    The Dutch solution for bus bulbs is great, and it’s a shame we don’t see that in any county design.

    It looks like the Seattle approach is to make cars wait behind a bus while passengers board/alight. Seems like a fine option to me, but wouldn’t the county throw a fit about this? More reason to speed up buses with off-board fare payment and all-door boarding.

    Finally, although it’s not a huge deal in Minnehaha, I wish the standard would be to encourage far-side bus stops at intersections. This is inherently helpful with system legibility and transfers, since people know that they can wait for a bus at a stop on the street they wish to depart from. I’ve dealt with this issue with transfers at Highland Park and elsewhere, where it’s not really clear where branched buses will be stopping.

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell November 26, 2013 at 11:57 am #

      There are a number of bus stops in The Netherlands where cars do have to wait on the bus that stops in the traffic lane. You nailed it with off-board payment. I think you can pay your fare on board the bus, but I’ve never seen anyone do it. Everyone in NL now uses an OV card for all bus, tram, train, and subway (I think nation-wide) so loading/unloading is quite fast.

      Some buses and most trams have had a separate ticket agent in a little booth to speed loading/unloading but I think these are being phased out. These were more necessary with the old strip card system (that was still off-board payment, I think since the 70’s or 80’s).

  3. Jeff Klein November 26, 2013 at 10:33 am #

    Busses are incredibly annoying for bikers because they go about the same speed overall but they stop and start, meaning once you get tangled with a bus the leapfrogging game is never-ending. I like the design in the Seattle photo.

  4. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell November 26, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    Great post Alex. Maybe what you’re proposing is just not complicated enough for the traffic engineers working on this project.

  5. Sam Newberg
    Sam Newberg November 26, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    Thank you Alex for using an analogy I wouldn’t touch with six-inch, er, ten-foot pole.

    Kidding aside, other is still a glimmer of hope Minnehaha Avenue could be a really awesome street. Let’s hope elected officials read this.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke November 26, 2013 at 1:21 pm #

      it’s not the size of the travel lane that counts, it’s how you use it

  6. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke November 26, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    great work. i wanna play the computer game simulation version of your infographic.

    i hope Mpls really does “play hard to get” in going down this avenue with the county. [wink wink],,, you gotta make ’em work for it.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke November 26, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

      PS, if you haven’t driven “the bus” on the ORIGINAL grand theft auto, i highly recommend it.

      • Matt Steele November 26, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

        PS if you haven’t driven the Komatsu off-road haul truck in Midtown Madness, I highly recommend it.

    • Ben November 27, 2013 at 9:42 am #

      Wait, why has no one made the videogame? Like, a hyper-demanding SimCity? Not only would it be a fun game (for me, anyway) it might be a pretty useful pedagogical tool.

  7. Nolan November 26, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    As a cyclist I do and would much prefer taking Snelling ave with it’s stop signs versus the high speed timing of the lights on Minnehaha. Does anyone have this same feeling? When bicycling as a regular pace on Minnehaha I feel like I hit all the lights and the wait to change on the east west streets is very long, especially on 31st where there are mult-crossings. Snelling feels more relaxing less of a wait… but I do tend to bike it not during rush hour times. From a cycling prespective I think slowing the speed limit on those streets, maybe installing speed bumps, giving snelling right of way at the lesser cross streets i.e. not 35th 36th 38th and 42nd.
    What are others thoughts?

  8. Michelle November 26, 2013 at 5:21 pm #

    YES, that Seattle design is amazing.

    It wouldn’t be so bad, even as it is, if buses were routinely aware of bikers AND used their turn signals appropriately, but more often than not they turn the signal on AS they are pulling out, or they fail to signal entirely. If as a biker I judge (owing to the lack of a turn signal, or mounting bus-riders) that it is safe to pass a bus, and then the bus proceeds to veer into traffic without warning, I very nearly become the middle of a bus-car sandwich (since goodness knows I’m not going to survive taking the next lane over in heavy traffic). It’s terrifying and entirely avoidable if buses just signal appropriately. However, I would love if it were a non-issue, as it would be in the Seattle example.

  9. minneapolisite November 27, 2013 at 7:27 pm #

    I’m very familiar with the problem of cyclists leapfrogging with buses which Jeff brought up and I’m glad he did. This scenario should almost never happen outside of peak rush hour and where it does occur it proves beyond any doubt that there are too many bus stops placed too closely together on that particular route (read: virtually all existing local bus routes). Additional evidence that a route is deficient is provided by the fact that when a high ratio of these stops are actually used it is impossible for the bus to stick to its schedule. A bus should be able to stop at every stop and be on time, so when the number of stops results in a routinely late bus that means you got too many damn stops. On Minnehaha the #7 stops from Lake goes: 31st, 32nd, 33rd, 34th, 35th, and so on and so forth: a dangerous pull-out is possible on every block.

    All Metro Transit needs to do for an easy fix to cut down a good percentage of pull out situations is to remove some stops so that it isn’t possible to occur on some blocks. I’m not totally against the buffered bike lane option and prefer it for a selfish reason: I won’t have to wait for bus riders to board and exit the bus across the cycle path. And as far as being worried about unsignaled pull outs you can always wait behind the bus or position yourself left of center in the lane and plan an exit strategy, possibly to the next lane if feasible. Cyclists should consider biking with a horn as another option to stop the bus from still pulling out totally into the lane and not with one of those little honk-honk toy horns, but a real horn comparable to a car’s like this.

    http://www.wired.com/design/2013/01/loud-bike-car-horn/

    Or the cheaper Airzound. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYkBHGurj-I

  10. Dave November 28, 2013 at 8:40 am #

    The current 1970’s era car-centric plan for Minnehaha has bicyclists not only dodging buses that cross the bike lane twice at every stop, they also have to contend with cars crossing into and out of the bike lane to park AND worry about the constant risk of doorings. Not to mention the risk of instant death from high-volume 40 mph traffic just off their left elbows. All it takes is one distracted driver. Sad that we could be getting real bicycle infrastructure at no additional cost were it not for regressive thinking amongst the County engineering staff and lack of a political leadership.

  11. Jeremy Mendelson November 30, 2013 at 12:22 am #

    It’s really not surprising to see the county engineers building pullouts, because they place a premium on the flow of cars rather than the movement of people. And those of us here care about people.

    Ottawa did some research a few years ago and found that removing bus pullouts (i.e. having the bus simply stop in the traffic lane) had significant positive impacts on speed and a reduction in crashes that were due to constant merges. Transit suffers from longer travel times than car travel largely due to lack of priority in traffic (i.e. bus pullouts, and having to wait behind all the cars all the time).

    The issue of closely spaced stops bothers every major North American transit agency but consolidating them is a big political nightmare because you get every old lady screaming to their council member while others don’t show up. I led a stop consolidation effort for Boston’s high frequency bus routes and it was a nightmare. So I can see why others don’t bother.

    However, there is every reason to have far side stops. On a typical route the bus is likely to wait in a traffic queue to reach the stop, then with a near side stop the light turns red before the bus is ready to go. With a far side stop, you won’t wait that second time, and once the light turns red you get a break in the traffic stream.

    p.s. Thanks for bashing both car drivers and streetcar advocates!

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